Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lessons I Learned from my Students' Blogs

It is my pleasure to have Al Gonzalez provide today's guest post. Al is a teacher in Washington State that I learn from via Twitter and blogging. He is a member of the Grading Moratorium, and he blogs here.

I create blog accounts for all my Science students every year. I have students blog about what they are learning in class. Sometimes the blog post is the assignment, sometimes the blog post is a reflection, sometimes the blog post is to share lab conclusions, observations and/or data, sometimes the blog post is a follow-up question or asking students to think about something further than what was done in class, and sometimes I even encourage students to blog about anything they like. The beauty of blogging is that my students get to share their learning, their experiences, their ideas, their thoughts with anyone in the world. I ask parents to read their child's blogs and I encourage all students to showcase their blogs at their student-led conferences in the spring. I also actively seek out classes that we can share with so that they leave comments on my student's blog and my students leave comments on theirs. I find this very powerful and something 21st century kids should find quite natural, being connected.

Over the years I've learned some things about student blogging that people like Alfie Kohn have known for years. I guess I'm just a little slow to learn these things. For example, it took me a few years to learn that even though it's blogging, even though they get to use technology in school, even though they can connect with kids in other schools, sometimes all over the world, less than a handful of kids ever blogged when I assigned it as homework. I guess I kept assigning blog assignments as homework year after year because I just couldn't believe that my students wouldn't do it just because it was homework. I mean, don't they use technology at home? Aren't they able to get online at home and blog? Not if it was homework. So I learned my lesson and I went from five to ten kids out of 140 blogging to all of them blogging. How did I do that? I have them blog in class. I do not assign any homework and I certainly will not assign their blogging as homework. Do some of them still blog from home? Yes, but it's on their own terms and they blog about what they want to blog about.

The second lesson I learned is along very similar lines. I used to grade, yes grade, their blogs. Ugh, just writing it leaves a bad taste in my mouth (funny, I'm not typing this with my mouth and I'm not even saying it out loud and it's leaving a bad taste in my mouth!). I started by making each blog worth 10 points. Why? Well to motivate my students to write them and to reward them when they finally wrote them. It was a disaster. So first I assigned them as homework, then I had to give over 130 kids zeroes over and over again because they weren't writing their blogs! Could I have been any worse? What started as a small part of their overall grade turned into a drop of a letter grade for many of my students. So I made blogs worth five points instead of ten to make it better. Yeah, that didn't fix a thing. It still sucked.

Well, ever since I abolished grades, thanks in a huge part to the blogs, DM's, emails and support of Joe Bower, I think my student blogs are flourishing. Let me show you some examples:

Here are a few 8th graders who have beautiful blogs:

saraha (some of this student's blogs weren't even class assignments!)

levic (check out this student's glogs and his slideshare!)

natalinac (we do use little paper but when we do I love scanning it and having students put their work on their blog)

And here are a couple of 6th graders who have even taken me up on writing about more than just what we do in class:

kyrstens (I love this student's Unit blogs. Totally creative, and no, I didn't pick this one just because she said I'm cool)

shanyan (great use of pictures in this blog!)

If you have students who are blogging point them our way. We do NOT participate in commenting competitions (comments from competing kids sound so insincere and they always write, "comment me back," which we are a bit sick of hearing) and my students practice thoughtful commenting that begins with actually reading the other person's blog. So if your students want to share information and get some new readers, I have over 130 students bloggers at MrGonzalez.Org.

I love learning from my students. I am practicing listening to them more because they know what they want and they know what they're doing. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in being the professional in the room that I forget to listen to them, especially when they aren't telling me directly.


  1. I think that is an awesome idea. I wish all our classrooms and schools had the funds so that students could be online with blogging in class. I use journaling in my science class which is the archaic version of blogging and some of the kids really get it, others still struggle, but I think some of them would love to use blogging. Hopefully my school will be able to get more computers soon then all my students can get online regularly.

  2. I really loved reading your blog. Your students blog are very interesting. Levic blog on Elwha dam is so cute and inspiring. The information provided by you is really very good and helpful for me.Thanks for sharing.
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